Taiwan's famous Sun Moon Lake faces tourism lull as Chinese visitorship falls

The Sun Moon Lake recorded about 2.98 million tourists in the first half of this year, down by more than 300,000 compared to the same period last year.
The Sun Moon Lake recorded about 2.98 million tourists in the first half of this year, down by more than 300,000 compared to the same period last year.PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

TAIPEI (XINHUA) - Along the beautiful Sun Moon Lake in Taiwan's Nantou County, a rock carved with the lake's name on it awaits visitors amid a winter chill on the signature tourism site.

The rock used to be an extremely popular site among Chinese mainland visitors, who often came in huge numbers and waited in long queues just to take a picture with the three words "Sun Moon Lake", an iconic site that even children on the mainland are familiar with.

But the fervour has become something of a bygone age. These days, only a few individual tourists come to admire the lake.

The current lull followed the election of Taiwan's new leader Tsai Ing-wen, who assumed office in 2016. Ms Tsai has refused to adhere to the 1992 Consensus, angering people on both sides of the Strait.

According to local authorities, the number of mainland tourists to Taiwan was more than 4.18 million in 2015. But after Ms Tsai was elected, the number dropped significantly to less than 2.73 million in 2017, down more than 30 per cent.

The impact on tourism has been great. According to the local newspaper China Times, Nantou County saw its tourist numbers down by 1.27 million in 2017. Average hotel bookings in Nantou were down by about 20 per cent.

Meanwhile, Sun Moon Lake recorded about 2.98 million tourists in the first half of this year, down by more than 300,000 compared to the same period last year.

The disappointing performance has affected the businesses operating near the lake.

According to China Times, the most popular tea egg store near the lake, "Grandma's Mushroom Tea Egg", used to sell up to 3,000 eggs a day during holidays a few years ago. Now, it is difficult to sell 2,000 a day during holidays.

"We are in desperate need of mainland tourists," said a woman surnamed Wang.

Madam Wang has been selling ice cream cones on a commercial street near the lake for 10 years. "When cross-strait relations were good, business was also quite good," she said.

Near Madam Wang's store were some specialties stores, with only a few customers in sight. Some stores have even touted "free food" to attract more customers.

"The lack of visitors also impacted the accommodation business in Nantou," said Mr Tim Chen, head of Doris Home, a cat-themed homestay near Sun Moon Lake.

"Basically, our homestay was not affected very much, but I do know that many hotels in Nantou are facing very difficult times," he said.

Ms Lai Seh-jen, former member of the Taiwan Strait Tourism Association, said the tourism industry must rely on itself to survive, rather than depending on Taiwan's current administration.

"Tourism is a big industry in Taiwan," Ms Lai said. "It is important to safeguard cross-strait tourism cooperation to boost its development."